(1) Land Rights for the Landless & Cultivators; Prevention of Land Alienation & Forcible Land Acquisition; Protection of Agricultural Land by Usha Seethalakshmi, Kavitha Kuruganti, et al. – (click here –Land Rights for the Landless for pdf)
(2) NAPM fact-finding committee findings on A.P. Capital region land issue —> Click here for pdf (a) Amravati NAPM Fact Finding Report on AP Capital (b) Amaravati Sustainable Capital City Development 2017 .
(3) ASHA’s letter to FSSAI Chairperson Shri Ashish Bahuguna on the 7th of February in a personal meeting, on the inexplicable haste of the Authority in wanting to regulate organic food. (Click here for pdf ASHA on organic certification.)
(4) People’s Tribunal on Online Land Records & Cultivators Rights 02nd June 2016, Visakhapatnam SUMMARY REPORT–> (CLICK HERE for Computerization of land records- Final report)
(5) Declaration of MAKAAM’s National Convention of Women Farmers 19 March 2016 In this National Convention of Women Farmers held in Bapatla, Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, women farmers from 18 states of India do hereby adopt and declare the following to Recognise, Empower and Support women farmers–>CLICK HERE for pdf MAKAAM DECLARATION 23rd March 2016.
(6) Tenant Farmers Issues By Kiran Vissa
(9) Farmer Suicides and Tenant Farmers Study Report. (Farmer Suicides, Land Ownership, Tenant Farmers and and Rythu Bandhu – A Study Report by Rythu Swarajya Vedika and students of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad from May-June 2018)
THE FARMERS’ (RIGHT TO ASSURED REMUNERATIVE PRICE FOR AGRICULTURAL PRODUCE) BILL, 2017 –
KISAN KARZA MUKTI BILL / VIDHEYAK, 2017
Source: March 2018: Kisan Mukti Bills (http://aikscc.com/resources/ ) finalised as Private Members’ Bills for Parliament in March 2018, after nationwide consultations (NOT THE FINAL VERSIONS):
Land Rights for the Landless & Cultivators;
Prevention of Land Alienation & Forcible Land Acquisition;
Protection of Agricultural Land
by Usha Seethalakshmi, Kavitha Kuruganti, et al.
In the context of discussing the current agrarian crisis, it is seen very often that the discourse these days does not even pay lip service to land rights for the landless and the cultivators (as opposed to landowners who may or may not cultivate the lands that they own) in terms of land distribution, land reforms, rights of tenant farmers, wages and work conditions of agricultural labourers,improvement in the standard of living conditions, elimination of social discrimination etc.Land alienation in the context of Land Acquisition has been discussed in the recent past as a loud national debate when the NDA government tried to bring in amendments to the LARR Act 2013 and passed Ordinances that were anti-farmer several times, which it had to allow to lapse in the end. However, Land Acquisition also remains a live issue.
One of the reasons for the silence around some of these issues is because we don’t pose a question around “Who is a Farmer” often enough and answer it in an expansive manner, as has been done in the National Policy For Farmers 2007. We know now that this NPFF 2007 is being revised by the Ministry for Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare. Now that the Ministry has been renamed as a Ministry with a mandate for “Farmers’ Welfare” also, it becomes all the more important to understand who a Farmer is. It is seen that it is not those who own land who constitute “Farmers”, but ones who are also tenant farmers/sharecroppers, invisible and unrecognised women farmers and farm labourers. Without these constituents of the world of Farmers, there is no agriculture at all. However, their needs and entitlements are often forgotten. Often, people believe that “land reforms” have no relevance any more in current day India. The main points of their arguments are as follows:
- Since agriculture itself is in crisis, “farmers” have to be first organised and therefore the aspects which lead to clash of ‘interests’ have to be kept aside;
- Landholdings are getting fragmented and unviable. We cannot afford to have any more disintegration on this front;
- Now there are no traditional landlords and earlier feudal exploitation; landlord-tenant relations have undergone transformation and therefore the argument that tenants need to be protected becomes irrelevant;
- the condition of labourers are better than the “farmers” and therefore there is nothing now to speak about agri-workers.
We hear the arguments of this nature not only from the land owners who do not cultivate lands but also from middle-class and from ‘intelligentsia’ as well as from other farmers. However, in the context of discussing the agrarian crisis, we must discuss those aspects which affect the tenants and farm labourers, who are part and parcel of agriculture; in other words, the problems faced by them are part and parcel of agrarian crisis.
Before opening the debate, we have to know certain limitations before us. Land rights and land administration are in the state list under our Constitution. Because of historical reasons, we find large scale diversity in respect of land administration methods, land laws and policies in various states and regions of the country. Further, customary laws apply in tribal communities. Making formulations or principles applicable to all the regions, therefore, is not so easy. We also acknowledge readily that there are many long-pending issues with revenue governance itself, wherever we go in the country.
Keeping these limitations in mind, let us attempt to discuss the following:
- Land reforms-land distribution
- Rights of Tenants
- Agricultural lands and rights
- Land Acquisition-displacement and rehabilitation
- Market Assisted Land Reforms (MALR)
- From Land Reform to Land Law Reform?
Land reforms-land distribution
Land reforms were taken up in the past to ensure equitable land distribution (through imposition of ceilings and distribution of land to landless) and getting land rights to the tillers/cultivators. There was success in terms of abolition of large estates and Zamindaris. However, very little agricultural land – estimated at just 2% – has been redistributed in India through these efforts. By the end of 2005, state governments across India had declared 7.34 million acres to be above ceiling (1.8% of India’s agricultural land). Of that land, the governments had taken possession of 6.5 million acres and distributed 5.39 million acres to 5.64 million households. On another front, poor rural households had been allotted 14.7 million acres of government wasteland which is a fraction of the estimated 32.6 million acres of cultivable wastelands accounting for 4.3% of India’s geographical land. While this may be so, the reality of the outcomes of land distribution efforts is also well-documented, whether it is subversion of the land ceilings or lack of ability to cultivate the assigned land in any viable fashion in the absence of land development efforts or the fact that bigger landowners do encroach on others’ lands and the titles are meaningless in reality.
However, we believe that there is scope for land reforms to this day in terms of land distribution to the landless. For this, we fall back on the thinking that went into the Draft National Land Reforms Policy of 2013 and also beyond it, in terms of concrete measures that will make land distribution possible to all those who are landless and aspire to be cultivators on their own land. Here, priority should be accorded to those communities were landlessness is on a steady rise, as shown in successive rounds of NSSO surveys (like Adivasis and Dalits).
- Land use planning in each village to be taken up;
- Fresh surveys and documentation to identify all existing land area, and a land pool to be identified in every village of wasteland and ceiling surplus land for allotment to the landless;
- Identification, quantification and classification of “wastelands” to get a proper assessment of such lands;
- Time-bound assignment of land, in the name of women; All land distribution to be accompanied by land development investments;
- Ensuring actual possession of assigned land for allottees of the past by eviction of encroachers, and ensuring proper titles;
- Removing illegal occupation of Bhoodan lands, surplus ceiling lands, Panchami land in Tamil Nadu, assigned land in AP/Telangana, Gairan land in Maharashtra etc.;
- Land to be made available by correction of land records following reconciliation of forest land and revenue land;
- Withdrawal of exemptions given to religious, educational, charitable, industrial organisations and so on;
- Revisiting ceiling limits downwards wherever possible, especially in the irrigated pockets;
- Ceilings to be imposed not just on ownership but operational holdings also;
- Ensuring that there is no diversion of agricultural land to non-agricultural purposes, and land going into the possession of non-agriculturists (defining both agriculture and farmer in a very tight fashion);
- Ceiling limits not to be relaxed for non-agricultural purposes unless absolutely needed;
- Land alienation, including to land acquisition in the name of another ‘public purpose’ should be prevented and disallowed; in fact, restoration of alienated lands should be taken up actively;
It is important to protect commons and empower women’s collectives to manage their village commons since these form the basis of the livelihoods of many landless and poor households in rural India. Within the landless should be counted lakhs of women farmers who toil on the family’s land, mostly on an unpaid basis, without statutorily-embedded inheritance rights over property accruing to them. Land rights for women should be ensured through proper implementation of existing legislations.
Rights of Tenant Farmers
The tenancy laws enacted in different parts of India not only sought to regulate conditions of tenancy in terms of terms and conditions (rent, tenure etc.), to protect the tenant, with an appreciation of the unequal political relationship between the landlord and the tenant, but also sought to empower tenants with land rights (land to the tiller concept). It is estimated that by the early 2000s, 12.4 million tenants, comprising around 5% households have been given rights over 15.6 million acres of land, comprising 5% of agricultural land.
Today, in the context of agrarian crisis, the issue of tenant farmers has come strongly to the fore again, especially in states like AP and Telangana. Fact finding reports are showing that a majority of farm suicides here are of tenant farmers. Here, while the landowners who have legal title to the land are cornering various benefits in the form of subsidies and schemes, the tenants are invisible, unrecorded and unsupported. They are taking huge risks in their tenant farming without any formal recognition and support. At a time when more and more benefits are taking the form of DBT (Direct Benefit Transfer, in the name of reducing corruption and leakages), the invisibility of tenants will mean that benefits will be garnered by non-cultivators.
Today, the situation of tenant farmers is such that, land rights or regulation of tenancy terms and conditions are a distant dream – support for institutional credit, access to subsidies for various inputs, getting insurance cover, ability to sell produce to the government procurement agencies etc., are all immediate concerns for these tenant farmers. In the absence of any formal recognition as farmers/cultivators, many tenant farmers who commit suicides are not officially counted as farmers who have committed suicides, nor any ex-gratia support provided to their families!
In states like Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, without scrapping the existing tenancy laws, new statutes in the form of “Licensed Cultivators Act” were brought in, which have a parallel system of recording all tenants and sharecroppers through Gram Sabha verification processes, so that identity cards may be issued for them, based on which certain services will ostensibly become available to them. While these ID cards called as LECs (Loan Eligibility Cards) are supposed to entitle these farmers to bank credit for farming (and not to rights listed in the existing tenancy laws), in the implementation of even the Licensed Cultivators Act, a lot of stumbling blocks remain. The Government of India is now talking about creating a Model Law for Land Leasing for Farming in India. In this context, we believe that land leasing being recorded in the open is indeed a good step forward, especially as an immediate and interim step with the proviso that land distribution may be carried out for such tenants too if they are landless, as in the case of Licensed Cultivators Act. However, regulation of land possession including leased in land through imposition of a ceiling is indeed important to ensure that “reverse tenancy” does not lead to land concentration. It is also important to ensure that bankers indeed respect any new system in terms of the licensed cultivators’ access to formal agricultural credit – if required, there should be a credit guarantee fund created to instil confidence in bankers. Mandatory crop insurance should be applied to all licensed cultivators.
Protection of Agricultural Lands
Agricultural land is key to the life and existence of humankind. When it comes to protection of agricultural lands, ASHA believes that several steps have to be enforced. Protection of Agricultural Lands should be viewed as a very critical “public purpose” in our development discourse and practice – to that extent, agricultural lands cannot be acquired and given away for other “public purposes”. Food security and livelihood security of millions is dependent on protection of such land.
However, today, agricultural land has become a speculative commodity for some, jeopardising our food and livelihood security. It is important to prevent this, by imposing restrictions on purchase of agricultural lands by non-agriculturists, and also to prevent diversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural use.
Protection from Forcible Land Acquisition
In the recent past, the nation witnessed the effort to dilute the LARR Act 2013which in itself does not protect all the interests of farmers. Even the limited restrictions enacted in LARR 2013 were unacceptable to corporations which are keen to lay their hands on land, whether it is for their real estate-based profiteering objectives, or for mining and other such purposes. Given strong resistance from various quarters, they are now resorting to “market-based approaches” to land acquisition. Here, instead of the government acquiring the land, it creates a situation where the farmers voluntarily give up land, thereby bypassing the obligations to provide the mandated protection and benefits available by law to the displaced. In this context, our long-pending demands are doubly pertinent:
NO FORCIBLE ACQUISITION: This means 100% consent in the local governance unit (pallisabha/gram sabha). Land cannot be acquired if not all affected are agreeing to it. This includes the ones whose livelihoods are tied to the resource, even if ownership rights do not exist on the same. No dilution of prior informed consent should be allowed.
NO AGRICULTURAL LANDS TO BE ACQUIRED: No agricultural land can be acquired with rights accruing under land acquisition legislations. The classification into single crop or double crop does not seem to matter since it is not just about notional food security at the national level that one should be worried about but livelihood and food security of the affected, which is more fragile in the case of single-cropped lands.
LAND USE PLANNING: It is important to initiate a process of land use planning urgently in the country, starting from Gram Sabha upwards, prioritizing food and livelihood security of rural households. This should prioritise women’s practical and strategic needs in relation to this important resource, including ownership by women. This would then give a picture of any land available, if at all, for such acquisitions, after taking into account the needs of various households, including those of livestock rearers and grazing lands for them, eco-system services being provided by water bodies in addition to livelihoods to fisherfolk etc. etc. Without such land use planning processes undertaken, with legal legitimacy accorded to the same, with the Gram Sabhas first staking claim to such plans and resources needed for the same, the country will always see a tussle between different forces and will not be able to meet its many development objectives, defined collectively.
PESA/SCHEDULED AREAS: The constitutional and legal provisions accorded to scheduled areas should be fully upheld and no diluting should be allowed here.
COMPLETE PENDING R&R PROCESSES: Lakhs of people in this country, “project-affected” and subjected to involuntary displacement, are awaiting just compensation, relief and rehabilitation to this day. This is also an indication of what lies in store for many others in future if things are not improved drastically. It is an urgent imperative that pending R&R processes be completed.
WHITE PAPER ON THE CURRENT STATUS OF LAND ACQUISITION AND AGREEMENTS FOR GIVING LANDS: Various MoUs and agreements are being signed by the governments with a variety of industries to give away land for business and other enterprises. However, there is no clear picture of which land, where, how much, on what terms and conditions are being given away or promised under various agreements. It is very important that governments first bring out comprehensive and accurate White Papers on the status of land acquisition so far, and the agreements related to/involving land acquisition in future. This is very important since numbers range from 18 lakh hectares to 180 lakh hectares (which is equal to the total land diverted to non-agricultural use over the decades from the time of Independence!) are being estimated as the quantum of land, given away in just the past decade or so across different states.
It is imperative that there should be clear and tight definition of what constitutes ‘public purpose’. There should be no dilution of impact assessment mechanisms built into the law today. In fact, if land is indeed acquired, it is only such a prior, comprehensive impact assessment that will facilitate any fair and just rehabilitation package. Further, the current approach to “industrial corridors” is completely unacceptable and any forward movement on the same should happen only after a detailed public debate. It becomes important to put a halt to all land acquisition till these pending issues are resolved urgently.
Market Assisted Land Reforms (MALR)
Beginning from the early 1990s, international attention has been turned to the use of land lease and land sale markets to increase the rural poor’s access to land in the form of a variety of schemes such as land purchase and land lease, variously identified as market-assisted land reforms (MALR) or “negotiated land reform”. The World Bank in particular promoted a series of pilot efforts as part of MALR in several countries, including India and the experiences and results of these have been varied in different contexts. The land purchase approach is typically premised on the theory that the market can be successfully used as an instrument to redistribute land to the land poor through a two-pronged effort: (1) increase the supply of land on the market by eliminating the subsidies favouring large holders and creating investment vehicles for the latter that are more attractive than land; and (2) help the poor to purchase land available on the market through a combination of grants and subsidized financing.
In various States in India, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes development corporations have operated the longest running land purchase programmes. These programmes have been in existence for the past 2-3 decades in hitherto undivided Andhra Pradesh and in States like Karnataka. The land purchase schemes got an additional push with the intervention of bank lending (SBI and NABARD) in States like Tamil Nadu and Kerala and with the World Bank working with state governments in Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh in the past, to expand access to land through land purchase projects linked to already existing self-help/micro-credit groups. While claiming that there is no more public land available for distribution or taking measures to revise ceiling limits downwards to enable redistribution, most States area shifting towards more market based solutions in the form of land purchase and land lease. The Telangana, the government has introduced a land purchase programme aimed at securing 3 acres of land for all landless dalit households in the State. The potential and limitations of these market based land reform measures and the challenge they pose to the question of redistributive land reform needs to be examined in detail.
From Land Reform to Land Law Reform? Understanding the implications
In the past decade and half following the ushering in of neo-liberal economic reforms in India, there has been discernible shift in the content and discourse around land reforms. During this period, we see a spate of new legislations and amendments to existing legislations on land as well as policies in the form of HSAA (2005), the FRA Act (2005), Draft Land Titling Bill 2010, Draft National Land Reforms Policy (2013), Amendments to the Registration (Act) Bill 2011, Real Estate Regulation and Development Bill 2013, Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013 etc. Paradoxically, several States have also been active in systematically diluting or amending several of their pro-poor legislations that were aimed at protecting and preventing agricultural land from being alienated from the poor. These developments lead us to ask whether there is more land reform or land law reform in India and who is benefitting from the same? While the earlier phase of land reforms were embedded in the framework of social equality and justice and were taken up with the objective of changing structural relations of power in the society. The later or neo-liberal phase of land reforms appear to be increasingly marked by a search for market based solutions to the land problem as land itself as a livelihood resource for a large number of the poor is getting commoditised in the context of large scale conversion, diversion and acquisition of land to meet private, corporate sector demands for land in the last decade and half. The active role of various States in creating land banks through various initiatives also needs to be seen in this context. What are the implications of these developments for the future discourse and direction of land reforms in India?
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